The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, May 17-23

nyc repertory cinema-maurice-hugh grant

Maurice (1987)
Directed by James Ivory
Luxurious yet near-campy period picture adaptations of classic literature, a cinema of great passions, Merchant-Ivory pictures were always primed for consumption by a certain gay/queer community. Yet, though their plots and set design are ready-made for diva scene-chewing, the films were almost always resolutely “tasteful,” not treading into the realms of true camp so much as the decadent yet stifled reservoirs of emotion and longing that camp seeks to unleash. It’s appropriate, then, that their adaptation of E. M. Foster’s early 20th century gay romance—their only film to explicitly deal with homosexuality—is one of the duo’s most restrained. The leads (James Wily, Hugh Grant, and Rupert Graves, all excellent) have never looked better, to be sure, but the film’s crowning achievement is filtering their beauty through elegantly tense natural-light (or faux natural-light) compositions; the film’s sex scenes are unnervingly hot but always a hair’s breadth away from collapse. Built around, naturally, tortured and unrequited love and self-denial, the film nevertheless invests fully in the moments of beauty its leads and its style generate while always binding them to a larger, often architectural, milieu with careful, delicate remove. At a time when queer film has never been more visible but is so often numbingly focused on simple self-actualization, Maurice reminds us that in 1987 there were already films more invested in the texture and circumstance of desire than simply its release. Jeffrey Dunn Rovinelli (New digital restoration opens May 19 at the Quad)

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